kolb reflective cycle
Dissertation Writing

Kolb Reflective Cycle: A Comprehensive Guide

This informative article will let you learn about the widely popular personality named David Kolb, and we will uncover multiple theories and concepts about Kolb’s reflective cycle. 

We will also provide you with in-depth details of the reflective cycle. So, let’s dive deep into the ocean of Kolb’s reflective cycle and its origins.

What Is Kolb’s Reflective Cycle 

Kolb’s reflective cycle was given by David Kolb in 1984, focusing on four stages and several types of learning. In this learning theory and reflective cycle, Kolb stated that learning is a process whereby knowledge is created through experience transformation. The experiential learning cycle consists of concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation, and active experimentation (Bergsteiner & Avery, 2014).

Kolb’s reflective cycle can also be referred to as a shortened version of Gibbs’ model, given both models are based on an individual’s own experiences (Abdulwahed & Nagy, 2009).

 The difference between the two is the number of phases in each model. It is important to note that while specific reflection models, such as Gibbs and Kolb, focus on individual learning, others, such as the Schon model of reflection, help reflect on organisational problems. Individuals use this reflective cycle to analyse prior events, construct concepts, and apply what they’ve learned. 

Who is David Kolb

David’s Kolb’s Early Days

David Kolb was born in 1939 in a small farming town. Unlike most kids around him, David loved learning and figuring things out. He often stood out and sometimes even faced teasing for his curiosity. Despite this, he enjoyed school and even played football.

David’s first experience with something special called “experiential learning” happened when he was in 6th grade. His teacher had a cool idea: each student picked a country, learned about it, and then pretended to be that country’s representative in a pretend United Nations meeting.

 Even though this happened many years ago, David remembers it clearly. This experience sparked David’s interest in how people learn best, which he would later explore as an adult.

The Academic Background Of David Kolb 

David Kolb started wanting to be a religious leader, but after a bad experience with a forceful preacher, he questioned organised religion. He still wanted to help people and decided psychology was a better way to do that.

Kolb went to college and studied psychology, but at first, he wasn’t impressed. He didn’t see the point of spending time cleaning cages and studying rats. Luckily, a new professor arrived who taught things Kolb found interesting, like personality theories and how people are different. This professor encouraged Kolb to keep studying, and he eventually got his Master’s and PhD degrees in psychology.

Kolb started teaching at MIT after college, and while there, he became curious about how to best help different individuals learn. This curiosity eventually led him to develop his famous theory of experiential learning.

After some time at MIT, Kolb taught at other universities and eventually retired as a professor. Throughout his career, he remained passionate about helping people learn and grow in the best way possible.

Description Of Stages Of Kolb’s Reflective Cycle 

The following is a detailed discussion of Kolb’s reflective cycle stages.

  • Concrete Experience: 

The learning cycle mostly begins with brand-new experiences. This could be anything you haven’t done before, like trying a new food or playing a new game. You might also learn by observing, hearing, or reading about someone else’s experiences. If you share your experiences with others, you can enrich your learning by combining what you saw and felt with what others experienced. 

  • Reflective Observation:

This is when any individual makes thoughts about having new experiences. Each individual looks back at what happened, tries to understand how everything fits together, checks for anything that doesn’t make sense and looks for the results that come from that experience.

  • Abstract Conceptualisation:

This stage is like turning your thoughts into ideas. You take what you learned from thinking about your experience (reflection observation) and try to make sense of it all. Imagine building a puzzle with the pieces from your experience.

  • Active Experimentation:

Finally, it’s time to put your learning into action. This is like using the knowledge you gained from your experience, like figuring out how your new toy works to do something new. You might try using your new skills in a different situation, teach someone else what you learned, and even apply your new ideas to solve a problem.

Read More About: Driscoll’s reflective model

How The Stages Of Reflective Cycle Works 

Let’s see how the learning cycle works in action. Imagine you’re cooking rice for the first time. You follow a recipe, but after cooking, the rice is undercooked and burnt at the bottom (not the best outcome).

Next, you start thinking about what happened through reflective observation. You replay the steps in your mind and compare them to the recipe. Maybe the flame was too high, or you didn’t add enough water.

Based on your thinking, you come up with some abstract conceptualisation ideas. You think you need lower heat and more water next time.

So, you try active experimentation again. You adjust the heat and water, and hopefully, you cook perfect rice, a new and better concrete experience this time.

This cycle shows that learning involves doing, thinking, figuring things out, and trying again. Ideally, you go through all four stages: experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting. According to Kolb’s reflective cycle, each stage is essential, and you need all four for effective learning. So, the next time you try something new, remember the learning cycle. It can help you master anything you set your mind to.

Learning Styles Of Kolb’s Reflective Cycle 

Based on Kolb reflective cycle, David Kolb took notice of people learning in different styles. He came up with four different learning styles, each emphasising two different parts of the cycle:

Imagine a learning cycle diagram, but we won’t describe it here. Instead, we’ll discuss that in the information below:

Kolb talks about learning in terms of two intersecting lines. The vertical line is called the “Perception Continuum”, and it’s about how we take in information, either through feeling (concrete experience) or thinking (abstract conceptualisation). The horizontal line is called the “Processing Continuum”, and it’s about how we make sense of information, either through doing (active experimentation) or watching (reflective observation).

According to Kolb’s reflective model, the ways of learning at each end of a line are opposite, and a person can’t do both simultaneously (like thinking and feeling). Trying to do both can cause internal conflict, resolved by an unconscious decision. The person subconsciously chooses whether to ‘do’ or ‘watch’ and whether to ‘think’ or ‘feel.’ The choices they usually make determine their preferred way of learning.

The Four Learning styles of Kolb’s Reflective Model Are Given Below: 

  • Diverging:

Imagine learning by observing others instead of always jumping right in. That’s the style of divergers. They like to think deeply about what they see and imagine different possibilities.

Think of them like detectives, gathering clues (observations) to solve mysteries (problems). Their creativity and brainstorming skills are their strengths, making them excellent at developing new ideas.

Divergers are also emotional and people-oriented, preferring to work in groups and appreciating different perspectives. They excel in subjects like literature, history, and psychology, where they can explore different viewpoints and analyse social situations.

  • Assimilating:

Assimilators love thinking deeply and turning their experiences into logical ideas. They’re like detectives who analyse clues (observations) to form a well-organised explanation.

Their strength lies in taking complex information and making it simple and easy to understand. They excel in maths and science, where they can focus on theories and explanations.

They prefer reading, lectures, and exploring ideas rather than hands-on activities in learning situations. People may not be the first to jump into experiments, but they’re great at making sense of the results afterwards.

  • Converging:

Convergers are like problem-solvers who love to take ideas and put them into action. They’re good at thinking through abstract concepts but enjoy getting things done with hands-on experiences.

Imagine them as engineers, taking theories and building something useful with them. Their strength lies in applying knowledge to solve real-world problems. They often excel in subjects like engineering, technology, and healthcare, where they can use their knowledge to make a practical difference.

In learning situations, they might enjoy experiments and hands-on activities to see how theories work in practice. They prefer finding the “best answer” and are good at solving maths problems or fixing broken machines.

  • Accommodating: 

Accommodators are like adventurers who love jumping in and learning by doing. They’re not afraid to take risks and try new things, even if it means making mistakes (trial and error).

Think of them like athletes who learn a new sport by practising, not just by reading about it. Their strength lies in their action-oriented approach and ability to adapt to new situations. They excel in practical fields like business, especially sales and marketing, where they can use their enthusiasm and resourcefulness to succeed.

They might prefer hands-on activities and projects instead of lectures or theories in learning situations. They’re not afraid to take risks and learn from their experiences.

Read More About: Rolfe reflective model

Three Structuring Stages Of Kolb’s Reflective Model 

  1. Acquisition (Birth to Adolescence): This is when you’re young and learning the basics, like walking and talking. You’re building your foundation for learning.
  2. Specialisation (Schooling and Early Adulthood): This stage starts with school and continues as you enter the workforce. Here, you might develop a preferred learning style based on your experiences and what works best for you in different situations.
  3. Integration (Mid-career to Late Adulthood): As you gain experience and grow older, you might become more comfortable using different learning styles, even those you didn’t prefer before. This is like becoming a well-rounded learner, able to adapt and use different tools depending on what you need to learn.

 The Applications Of Kolb’s Reflective Model 

David Kolb’s theory isn’t just a fancy idea; it’s used in many real-world situations! Here are some examples:

1. Education:

Teachers can use Kolb reflective cycle to understand their students’ learning styles: Some students learn best by doing activities (concrete experience), while others prefer lectures (abstract conceptualisation). Knowing these styles, teachers can use different teaching methods like games, discussions, or explanations to cater to everyone.

Ideally, teachers would use all four learning stages in their lessons: This means including activities, reflection time, discussions, and opportunities to apply knowledge. This benefits students in two ways:

  • They learn better: Using their preferred styles helps them understand the material better.
  • They become more flexible learners: By trying different styles, they become comfortable learning in different ways, preparing them for any situation.

2. Academic Advising and Career Counseling:

  • Advisors can help students understand their learning styles: By understanding how students learn best, advisors can suggest helpful resources and strategies for success.
  • They can also identify areas for improvement: Based on the student’s chosen field, the advisor can recommend ways to strengthen learning styles that might be less developed but essential for that career path.

3. Business:

  • Sales & Marketing: Knowing customer preferences can help design better marketing strategies. Ideally, businesses would use various approaches like demonstrations, explanations, and presentations to cater to different learning styles and ensure everyone understands their product or service.


Kolb’s reflective cycle is like a never-ending journey. You start by experiencing something new, then think about it and learn from it. Finally, you try things out based on what you learned. But that’s not the end! This new experience becomes the beginning of a whole new cycle. So, learning keeps going, building on itself and making you a more intelligent and more adaptable learner every step of the way.